Thursday, July 24, 2008

Magicians Know More Than Scientists

Magicians are way ahead of psychologists when it comes to understanding and exploiting the human mind and our perceptual quirks.

A new study, detailed in the current online issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, reveals how elements of human cognition, such as awareness and perception, could be explained by the success of some techniques commonly used by magicians.

For instance, vanishing tricks rely on the idea that we are only aware of a small part of what's in our visual field.

"Although a few attempts have been made in the past to draw links between magic and human cognition, the knowledge obtained by magicians has been largely ignored by modern psychology," said researcher Ronald Rensink, who specializes in vision and cognition at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Seeing is believing?

Rensink, UBC colleague Alym Amlani and Gustav Kuhn of Durham University in England recently lifted the lid on some key techniques in the classic magician's toolbox.

One of their revealing experiments highlighted the disconnect between what participants saw with their eyes and what they were focused on with their minds.

The researchers showed 46 participants a video clip of a magical performance while measuring each subject's eye movements. In the performance, a cigarette and lighter once in the magician's hands disappear (he drops each into his lap). About 50 percent of the participants claimed to see the objects being dropped while the others didn't.

"What people actually saw was not related to where they were looking," Kuhn told LiveScience. "Several participants who were looking at the object being dropped failed to see how it was done."

Even though their eyes were focused on the objects, their attention was elsewhere, he said.

Magicians have used so-called misdirection tricks for centuries to make scarves or animals appear out of thin air or cause other objects to vanish. But it's only been in the last two decades that vision scientists have found that only a small part of the information that enters your eyes, essentially the part that has grabbed your attention, enters your conscious awareness. ... -continued on  yahoo

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